Written by John Oswald
6:19 PM, Oct 11, 2012
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will meet in Long Branch to consider granting Special Management Zone status for artificial reefs off the coast of Delaware. SMZ status means that these reefs will remains free of commercial gear.
Organizations working to clear New Jersey?s reefs of commercial gear are aware that a regulation requesting similar status for the state?s 13 reefs in federal waters has been sent to Gov. Christie?s office. Peter Grimbilas, co-chairman of Reef Rescue, is hoping the Governor moves quickly so that New Jersey?s request for SMZs can be considered on the MAFMC agenda for next week.
?We need to get that that SMZ movement happening and we?re trying to prod the Governor so he does that,? said Grimbilas. ?Otherwise we?re going to lag behind. It has taken Delaware 15 months to get the MAFMC to make a determination on the status of its reefs.? By gaining SMZ status, there is a greater probability, Grimbilas said, that federal grants, which have been withheld due to the commercial gear, will be restored.
Grimbilas is requesting that those interested in returning the reefs to their intended purpose, for use by hook, line and spear fisherman, to do two things.
First, write a letter to the Governors office requesting that the regulation be released for consideration and second, that they attend the the meeting in Long Branch on Oct. 17.
Letters can be sent to Governor Chris Christie, Office of the Governor, PO Box 001,Trenton, NJ 08625. Grimbilas said that all the letter needs to convey is that the Governor release the regulation for consideration. Phone calls can also be made to 609-292-6000.
The SMZ reef issue is scheduled to be heard between 10 a.m and noon at the Ocean Place Resort at 1 Ocean Blvd. in Long Branch. Grimbilas expects representatives of the commercial industry to be on hand as well.
?I would highly recommend that recreational anglers show up at that meeting and get up in front of the microphone to make their statements,? he said.
?This is extremely important. We?ve been waiting for six years. This is just so unfair that the reefs be blanketed and dominated by commercial lines instead of used for what they were built for, which is recreational fishing,? Grimbilas added.
The hope is that New Jersey can capitalize on the momentum created for SMZs by Delaware and accelerate the process here. Conversely, if Delaware fails in its bid to obtain this designation, New Jersey can probably expect to suffer the same fate.
The SMZ designation applies only to those reefs in federal waters. New Jersey has a total of 15 artificial reefs with two in state waters. Reef Rescue and other concerned groups have been fighting to have the commercial gear removed from all reefs for years.
Legislation aimed at remove commercial gear from New Jersey?s artificial reef has been introduced in three different sessions of the state legislature and been stymied every time. Bills designed to remove the lines seem to have no trouble moving out of the state Senate but become bogged down once they reach the Assembly.
One stumbling block is a compromise plan that would provide commercial fisherman limited access to the reefs. Recreational fisherman are opposed to this compromise as the reefs were never intended to host commercial gear.
The conflict has caused the federal government to withhold money for artificial reef building from the Sport Fish Restoration Fund since those funds can only be used for recreational purposes.
John Oswald: 732-643-4245; firstname.lastname@example.org